theatre maltings: Transports, by Pipeline Theatre
On Tuesday 22 March, Farnham Maltings will play host to Pipeline Theatre’s production of Transports. Inspired by the true story of a Kindertransport refugee, the organised rescue effort of thousands of Jewish children before the start of the Second World War, the plot weaves together the lives of a rebellious and troublesome foster teenager and an outspoken widower who becomes her foster mother. As the story deals with many historical truths, some of which might be unknown to people today, we have explored a little further into the background of Kindertransport and how the experiences of those children over 80 years ago, are being replicated right now in Europe and the Middle East.
In the late 1970s, volatile adolescent Dinah is thrust into her final foster home. Her last foster mother is Lotte, an eccentric chatterbox with a hint of a foreign accent and a closet full of skeletons and secrets. Both women have open wounds that need healing and are more similar than they like to admit. As the plot develops, two parallel sets of revelations collide with devastating consequences for them both. The story explores the experiences of both women by paralleling their lives side by side, from the Second World War experience of Lotte to the modern day plight of Dinah. Directed by Jon Welch, the play is inspired by the true story of co-designer Alan Munden’s mother Liesl who came from Germany in 1939, aged 15. Tying in themes of grief, loss and isolation incorporated within both the Kindertransport and foster care scheme, the story proves to be an incredibly moving and fascinating experience for its audience.
On December 2 1938, the first Kindertransport voyage arrived at Harwich, England, bringing 196 children from a burning Berlin Jewish orphanage in one of the horrific outcomes of ‘Kristallnacht’ or ‘Night of Broken Glass’, when the Nazis killed nearly one hundred Jews and subjected thousands more to extreme violence and torture. From train journeys leaving various European cities such as Vienna, Prague and Berlin to boarding a ship from the Dutch and Belgian borders to England, these children were fleeing what would have already been five years of the Nazi terror reign on the Jewish community.
Emigration had already been occurring almost immediately after Adolf Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933, with tens of thousands of Jews leaving Germany within a matter of months. The European and American superpowers were, up until the events of ‘Kristallnacht’, refusing entrance to new immigrants. However, in response to those events, the British Jewish Refugee Committee made an appeal to Parliament and following a debate in the House of Commons, the already existing refuge aid committees changed focus from emigration to rescue. With persuasion from the persisting refugee advocates and sympathetic people in high places, the British government swayed and permitted children under the age of 17 to enter the United Kingdom, on temporary travel documents with the hope that would be reunited with their parents when the crisis was over. On arrival, the children were put into a temporary summer camp in Dovercourt until individual families came forward to take them into their homes and hostels were prepared to take the larger groups. The last official trip was made on September 1 1939, two days before Britain’s entry into the war and by that time, approximately 10,000 children had been a Kindertransport refugee.
In 1988, Bertha Leverton, a Kindertransport child living in London planned a local 50th anniversary reunion of Kindertransports. Within months, the small reunion went international and in June 1989, over 1200 Kinder (as they name themselves) arrived from all across the globe, including the United States, Australia and Israel. From this, sparked the formation of the Kindertransport Association by Eddy Behrendt in 1989, which aims to reunite and bring together the Kindertransport individuals.
Pipeline Theatre, throughout their tour of ‘Transports,’ is supporting the organisation Good Chance Calais. Running since October 2015, they have created a theatre space in the refugee camp in Calais, forming a symbol of hope and safe place of artistic expression, and allowing the refugee’s to escape and confront their current conditions. On Thu 10 March, after a court ruling, French police closed in to clear refugees from the Jungle and start demolishing the homes of the desperate community. The team were given a special ruling which enabled them to take apart the theatre before the bulldozers came in. The Good Chance Theatre will wait to see what happens next but they hope to rebuild and become the centre of the refugee community once again. To learn more about the organisation and to donate, please visit their website for further details.